Reporter's Notebook

Reporter’s Notebook: York University Fire A Tiring Disruption At Exam Time

York University (Photo provided)
TORONTO, Canada – What started out as a normal day turned out to be the most tiring two days of the year when a fire turned my family out of our home.
I live on campus at York University, because my mom is studying here and the December 13 fire affected me as well as all the students living on campus.
As usual, I came home from school at around 3:40 p.m., taking the long way through the campus buildings, but I didn’t suspect anything. I didn’t know about the fire and went to sleep for a while. I found out about the fire from a neighbor who came over about 6 p.m.
The good thing was that only the heat and hot water were gone, or so I thought. My neighbor called the housing office and apparently the water pipes were going to burst at any time.
Hearing that got my parents panicking and then we got a notice saying that we had to pack our backs and wait in the lobby, so that a bus could pick us up at 7:30 p.m. to take us to a hotel.
After packing, we headed down as soon as we could and found the lobby jammed.
There were people everywhere, but nobody to give any information about what was happening.
At first, it seemed like a party where everyone was having a good time talking to friends or meeting new people, but as time passed, the crowd grew tired and restless.
Not having anyone present to update them became a cause to be frustrated and angry at the university. These were all students and they had exams to worry about. In their eyes, the university was wasting the time they could have spent studying.
People with internet access on their phones tried getting information from the York website, but the situation still wasn’t clear.
About 9:40 p.m., two people finally came to give us information on what was happening and a bus arrived around 10 p.m. to take us to the Residence Inn Marriott.
We were told that we either had a choice to stay in our apartments or go to the hotel. It was amazing how they didn’t say anything about having a choice to stay or leave before the students – many of them with little kids – waited two and a half hours in the lobby.
Almost everyone decided to go to the hotel, where they were expected to check out at 11 the next morning and wait for a bus to bring them back to campus. Vouchers for food were handed out and each person could spend $50 that night and another $50 the next day.
After processing all the information – which should have been provided while people were waiting for two and a half hours – most people made the decision to go to the hotel because they didn’t have any trust left in the university and questioned whether the heat and hot water could actually be brought back at 11 a.m. the next day.
Everyone got excited about staying at a hotel and getting free food. All they could talk about was getting every single penny out of the university.
Nobody could blame them for doing so, though, because the university is a money making machine and students who actually have to pay the high tuition are the ones who are suffering a loss, not the university.
Honestly, in our time it’s rare to find a person who will give you a second of their time if there isn’t anything in it for them. So, what makes the university think that they have the right to waste students’ time?
The bus sent by the university was very small. By the time everyone got on, it was clear the number of people exceeded its maximum capacity. Many people stood through the hour-long ride to the hotel, and it was almost midnight by the time everyone was checked in.
The next morning, we all checked out at 11, but the bus didn’t come for three more hours. When we wanted to order lunch, the person in charge at the hotel who was in contact with the university prevented us from ordering with the false hope that the bus was coming soon. We were also told that food would be provided once we were back on campus, but it wasn’t.
Everyone was fed up with the false information given by the university. They assumed that nothing was fixed in university housing, and that the only reason they had to check out at that morning was so that the university didn’t have to pay for another night at the hotel.
After this incident, the university’s concern about students’ safety is questionable. Even after the university was aware that the temperature fell to -14°C and there was a possibility of the water pipes freezing and bursting if the heat failed, they still gave students a choice to either stay or leave.
If the water pipes did burst, it would have caused a lot of damage and become a safety concern, but it seems like the university was too worried about spending its money. If students wanted to stay back, the university would have let them, even if it meant compromising the students’ safety.
It’s also very hard to imagine that the university couldn’t make arrangements sooner.
Though the fire was completely extinguished by 4 p.m., the university didn’t bring buses to residences until 9 p.m., with many buses arriving near midnight.
Atkinson Residence, where I live, finally got a bus at 10 p.m., even though the notice said 7:30 p.m.
Many students think that the university never really called buses to come at 7:30 p.m. and that the university wanted to see if students would really wait that long, especially when there are exams.
If students went back to their apartments because of the long wait for a bus, then the university would have spent less on food and accommodation.
It’s clear that the university could have done more and should have done more to make it easier for students.
In the future, the university should take these situations more seriously and improve on how they respond.
Mehran Shamit is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.